Sri Aurobindo translates Katha Upanishad, First Cycle, First Chapter, Verses 26-29: “Nachiketas speaks: ‘Until the morrow mortal man has these things, O Ender, and they wear away all this keenness and glory of his senses; nay, all life is even for a little. Thine are these chariots and thine the dancing of these women and their singing. Man is not to be satisfied by riches, and riches we shall have if we have beheld thee and shall live as long as thou shalt be lord of us. (1) This boon and no other is for my choosing. Who that is a mortal man and grows old and dwells down upon the unhappy earth, when he has come into the presence of the ageless Immortals and knows, yea, who when he looks very close at beauty and enjoyment and pleasure, can take delight in overlong living? This of which they thus debate, O Death, declare to me, even that which is in the great passage; than this boon which enters in into the secret that is hidden from us, no other chooses Nachiketas.’ ”
“(1) Life being a figure of death and Death of life, the only true existence is the infinite, divine and immortal.”
Many, if not most, people accept the conditions of life without a deeper examination. They focus their attention on the goals set forth in society, and seek wealth, children, and enjoyment of various sorts in the fulfillment of their desires. They undergo states of pleasure followed by pain, enjoyment followed by suffering, and they accept these as the natural conditions of life and look no further.
Some are called to examine life from another viewpoint. As the Upanishads point out, the “day” of the man of the world is the “night” of the seeker; and vice verse. These individuals intuit that this cycle of pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow, life and death, is not the sum total of existence, nor does it provide the context and significance of life. They want to put this life into a larger frame that explains what it is we are doing and meant to do with our existence. Nachiketas is such a seeker. When offered the utmost fulfillment of the life of the world, he refuses to be distracted by these “shiny objects” and keeps his gaze fixed on the deeper truths of existence.
It is a recurrent theme in the spiritual literature of the world that the seeker starts on the path, and as a result, is provided with worldly opportunities and achievements far beyond what he could ever imagine. If he diverts his attention then he becomes successful in the world but does not find out the deeper truths in this lifetime. Thus we learn that Jesus rejects dominion over the world, and Buddha renounces his status as Prince. Nachiketas keeps his focus on the attainment of Truth and is thus able to demand that Death reveal to him the secret of existence.
Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Katha Upanishad, pp. 213-241, and Kapali Sastry, Lights on the Upanishads, pp. 104-129